[PDF Notes] Get complete information on Victorian Essay and Prose

(1) R.L. Stevenson (1850-94):

Stevenson was the foremost essayist since Lamb, a poet, a novelist and a short story-writer. He touched everything and adorned what he touched. The gift of essay-writing was inborn in him. An Inland Voyage, Travels with a Donkey, Familiar Studies of Men and Books, Memories and Portraits, etc., are some his finest collections of essays.

His essays are highly autobiographical. The personal note is one of the most important characteristics of his writings, They reveal his charming personality. From his essay- On the Books that Have Influenced Me’ we know of the various books that he read and enjoyed and that went into the making of his personality.

He was always a moralist, and a profound ethical note is another important characteristic of his essays. He ridicules crime in many of the essays as in the Dynamiter. His morality finds expression in the most unexpected places, but this ethical note is most prominent in the Old Morality and Christmas Sermons.

Another important quality of Stevenson is his love of the heroic. He believed, “It is better to live and be done with it, than to die daily in the sick room”. His love of the heroic and the self-sacrificing is reflected in most of his writings.

He was a conscious artist who mastered his calling as a craft. Before he took to writing, he laboured hard to cultivate his style. He had a remarkable gift of condensing his meaning into a striking phrase. This makes him one of the most memorable and quotable of the English essayists. He bestowed great care on the choice of his words and systematically and laboriously studied their sounds. But he is never affected ana never subordinates meaning to sound.

(2) Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881):

His first important volume was the extraordinary Sartor Resartus (1833), a kind of autobiography of an imaginary German professor. The astonishing style and the unusual opinions expressed in it made it rather a startling production. The French Revolution (1837) which followed gave fire and intensity to history, while political tracts of great insight, and literary merit appeared in Past and Present (1843) and Later day Pamphlets (1850).

The later years of his life were occupied with two immense historical works, Oliver Cromwell’s Letters, and Speeches (1845) and The Life of Frederick (1865). Hero and Hero-worship is another of his important works.

For more than a generation Carlyle was revered both as teacher and a prophet. By his admirers he was called “the Sage of Chelsea”, and he maintained his reputation by means of books, letters, and conversation.

He was much concerned with contemporary social and political affairs, as well as with the more personal concerns of religion and private morals. A later generation finds it somewhat difficult to accept Carlyle’s teachings. His writings abound in words, and a rather confusing amount of good advice.

In the main, he lays down a few simple rules of conduct, such as the cultivation of hard work, the necessity for personal inquiry into religious and other opinions, and the relief of the poor and oppressed. Though it now seems to amount to very little,, we must remember that by its influence Carlyle’s teaching died do an immense amount of good. His robust faith in himself and in the ultimate good of all things was like a tonic in a time of wavering faith and increasing pessimism.

(3) Lord Babingtin Macaulay (1800-59):

Macaulay offers a curious a curious contrast to Carlyle. The latter was the preacher, the idealist, and the sage; the former was the hard- headed man of affairs, taking the world as it came, and offering no remedies to cure its evils. In his prose we find no struggle, exaltation, and despair such as we find in the prose of Carlyle.

Instead, we observe brisk details. We should not the copious vocabulary, the clever variations of the sentences, and the swiftly moving rhythm. His History of England had an enormous popular success, which was due to his selection of telling incident, his clear and rapid narrative and clean cut, assured manner of statement. As a historian, he was inclined to Whig views, and he is prone to exaggeration.

(4) John Ruskin (1819-1900):

Ruskin was born of affluent parents, but his views on life were not in keeping with his social position in it. In art he was equally unconventional; in particular, he was a strong supporter of Turner, the landscape-painter. His total amount of books, pamphlets, articles and lectures were so numerous that we can name only a few of them His first and longest book was Modern Pointers, begun in 1843 and completed in 1860.

It expounded Ruskin’s ideas upon art and life in general. Shorter works on art were The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1851-58). Among his articles and lectures are The Two Paths (1869), Unto this Last. (1860), The Crown of Wild Olive (1964) and Sesame and Lilies (1865).

Ruskin was an idealist, far in advance of his time. He spent much of his money and nearly all his life preaching to people who were largely indifferent to his efforts. He died in the Lake District, a disappointed man.

Several features of this remarkable prose style are at once apparent: the enormous sentence, rolling along like a torrent; the cunning use of semi colons, dividing the sentence into convenient lengths; the strong rhythm, which in places is almost metrical, and the studied loveliness of epithet, which becomes quite poetical in hits effect, As an piece of descriptive writing it is gorgeous and almost dazzling in its effect.

Ruskin had another style, which he employed chiefly in his numerous lectures, It has all his care and poetical effect, but it is severely simple. Frequently its diction is suggestive of The Bible.

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